Today, and for the next four Sundays, we read from the famous bread of life chapter in the Gospel of John (6:1-69). Today’s text is John’s account of the feeding of at least five thousand people.
Jesus is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The people have gathered because they have seen him work a healing miracle or “sign”, as John likes to call such miracles. Jesus retreats with his disciples to a mountain.
When Jesus sees the crowd approaching, he senses that they are hungry and asks Philip where they could buy food. He is testing Philip. Jesus knows exactly what he is going to do, but he wants to see if Philip knows. Philip does not know, nor does the other disciple, Andrew. They fail to understand that Jesus is the one who will satisfy the people’s hunger.
Philip and Andrew try to come up with practical but conventional solutions. There are five thousand men present, not counting women and children. According to Philip, there isn’t enough money to feed such a crowd. All Andrew can come up with are the five loaves and two small fish that are offered by a little boy. Conventional solutions will not feed the people; only Jesus can feed them. Jesus then works the miracle.
Notice something very important in John’s account. It is Jesus himself who shares the food with the people, not the disciples. He is the source of the gift for these hungry people. The miracle produces so much food that twelve baskets of leftovers are gathered.
As always, the people are ecstatic about the miracle. They identify Jesus as a prophet and want to make him king. But Jesus is cautious about such enthusiasm based on his miracles or signs. He is truly a king, though not in the way the people think. His response is to withdraw by himself to the mountain. He will not be their earthly kind of king.
Pray for a deeper understanding of the gift of the Eucharist. Ask the Lord to increase your faith.
Our culture today places huge emphasis on the individual. There’s a “rugged individualism” type of mentality around. We’re inclined to focus solely or mainly on our own needs, our individual rights, our individual entitlements. Think of how some people have refused to respect the advice of health officials during the COVID-19 lockdown, how they put their own selfish needs above the welfare of the community.
The same can apply to our religion. We can reduce our religious practice to a private affair, as if it has nothing to do with our obligations to our sisters and brothers.
This blindness in our culture is the opposite of Jesus’ vision of things. Jesus was totally other-centred. Food, friendship and togetherness were at the heart of his ministry. He had compassion for those who were hungry, as today’s Gospel shows. The meal practice of Jesus and our celebration of the Eucharist tell us that we are a community first, that we belong together.
The feeding of the five thousand may have been due to some miraculous multiplying of food. But the real miracle may have been far simpler. It may have been that, even though the amount of food appeared small, there was sufficient for everybody when everybody shared. By his willingness to share what he had, the little boy in the Gospel story encouraged others in the crowd to share what they had. His display of generosity inspired those around him to be generous also. And when everybody shared what they had, there was more than enough to go around.
Our world produces enough food to feel everybody adequately. Our planet generates enough wealth to ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living. If only we were better at sharing.
The Eucharist is a foretaste of the heavenly feast in which we hope to share. It’s a reminder that everything we have is given to us as a gift. As the little boy demonstrated, if we rely on each other, if we are willing to share, if we have Jesus’ vision, then we will not only survive but thrive.
- In Jesus, God’s power is at work.
- Individualism is not a Christian value.
- Jesus is the bread of life, who satisfies our deepest needs.
For the Christian, power and authority are about service.
Listen carefully to the words of consecration at Mass, during which the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of our saviour.